Categories: ancient Egypt

Cat statues of ancient Egypt have plain coats whereas the real cats were mackerel tabbies

The domestic cats of ancient Egypt were all brown, mackerel tabbies whereas the bronze statues of cats from that era had plain coats. The statues look like modern day Abyssinian cats both in terms of their coat and body confirmation while the ‘real cats’ of that era look like classic, random bred mackerel (striped) tabbies.

Tabby cats of ancient Egypt and plain-coated statues. Collage: PoC. Photos in public domain.

The reason why domestic cats of that time were tabbies is because they were domesticated North African wildcats which is essentially a tabby cat. Although the experts don’t use domestic cat language to describe wild cats. It took several thousand more years for the mackerel tabby of ancient Egypt to evolve into the blotched tabbies, ticked tabbies and the huge range of other coats which we see today. It is possible that there was cat breeding in those days.

You can imagine it: a tabby cat looks a bit different because of a genetic mutation. Perhaps the tabby coat was more blotched than striped. In those days there was no neutering. The cat’s owner liked the different coat and made sure that they mated with another cat. Perhaps they sold the unusual looking cat to friends which led to more cats of this type being bred. This would be the beginnings of domestic cats with solid colour coats; an unnatural coat but one that stood out.

Why don’t the statues accurately reflect the cats of ancient Egypt? The experts don’t tell us. The only explanation I can come up with is that the craftsmen and women of that era did not have the technically ability to emboss the striped coat into the bronze. Or it was perhaps too fiddly to do and they wanted a sleeker design.

As you see a lot more statues than paintings from the era it is easy to be misled into believing that the domestic cats that they supposedly loved were Abyssinian type cats but they were not. It is also a misconception that they loved cats. How could they if they bred and killed so many as sacrifices to Bastet?

The bronze statue in the picture above was meant to contain a mummified cat and is from 332-30 B.C. It is stylised but it does mislead people today as to the appearance of the tabby cats of that era.


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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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